Throughout my work with abuse survivors (remember: no VICTIMS), the main questions I’ve been asked have been: Can s/he change? Did I do something wrong? Is there a chance we can get back together? Am I that unimportant to him/her?
These are all good questions and ones that you have undoubtedly thought of yourself. Sometimes, the root of all these questions is usually: What makes him act this way? What is going through his mind?
Abusive behavior begins in childhood. Almost without exception, abusersincluding teen abusersfit a typical profile:
- They have been physically and/or psychologically abused as children.
- They have seen their father beat and/or severely dominate their mother or sisters.
- One or both of their parents abused, or continue to abuse, alcohol, or use drugs.
These facts are important to understand because if a boy (I will use the stereotypical gender of male although women can also be highly abusive to men) sees his father dominate and intimidate his mother, he understands that this is the way men behave toward women. If he sees his father hit his mother, he understands that physical domination is the man’s right in his relationships. If he sees that his mother tolerates this behaviorthat is, she doesn’t leave or at least stand up for herselfhis perception is that women feel this is acceptable behavior.
An important characteristic of an abuser is one who loses his temper frequently and more easily than most people. He may throw or hit objects rather than people. I am always concerned when I hear of people who punch holes in their bedroom walls or closets. In many households it is considered acceptable behavior when the childusually a boyis upset, and he’s not harming anyone. This is dangerous logic because the brain gets accustomed to destroying things when angry. It knows that when it is stressed or anxious, hitting through something relieves those feelings. It very quickly generalizes a face just as easily as a wall.
Often an abuser will appear to have a dual personality. Most of the time he is nice and considerate and then he can quickly switch to a cruel person who makes demeaning comments, becomes enraged when she doesn’t listen to his advice, when he doesn’t know where she is at all times, or when he uses drugs or alcohol. When an abuser expresses remorse and begs for forgiveness, it keeps his partner in the relationship.
Another important feature of an abuser is that he is very adept at turning his bad behavior around to blame his partner. This constantly makes her wrong, as if she’s disappointing him. She believes she can’t trust her instincts and that she has to apologize for “crimes” she didn’t commit. Because she feels like such a “loser,” she believes him when he tells her that he is the only boyfriend who would put up with her and she should be happy that he keeps her around. Do you see how insidious this behavior is? The abuser doesn’t take responsibility for any of his actions; it is likely therefore that he will not change.
Here are some very important concepts for you to understand about abusers:
- Abuse is a learned behavior. It is learned from seeing it used as an effective tool of controlusually in the home in which he grew up.
- Abuse is not a natural reaction to an outside event.
- It is not normal to behave in a violent manner within a personal relationship.
- Abusers deny that abuse has occurred or make light of an abusive episode.
- Abusers blame the victim, other people, or outside events for the abusive attack.
- Abusers don’t act because they are out of control. They choose to respond to a situation violently. They are making a conscious decision to behave in an abusive manner.
- Abusers know what they are doing and what they want from their girlfriend.
- Abusers act out of a need for control and domination, not anger.
- Abusers are not reacting to stress.
- Abusers may at times be loving and gentle, charming and engaging, hard workers and good students.
So, now that you understand more fully about the abuser, I will answer the question at the start of this article: can an abuser change? Here are the six criteria that are necessary if an abuser is to change. They happen in order and all six are vital:
- He understands that his behavior is inappropriate and abusive.
- He doesn’t cast blame for his behavior onto his girlfriend, parents, teachers, or anyone else.
- He takes full responsibility for his abusive behavior.
- He has a desire to change. He’s not just doing it to stay out of trouble at school or with the law or because his girlfriend nagged him to do so.
- He follows up his stated desire to change with concrete actions. LOVE IS A BEHAVIOR!!
- His new actions are continuous, not just for the moment. Most abusers apologize for their bad behavior and tell their girlfriend it will never happen again. Often, they are contrite for only a few days.